Notorious in any city is the underground business of prostitution. Chinese prostitutes are commonly associated with any area in which there is a significant population leading to the formation of a Chinatown. Boise was no exception, however, the problem of prostitution here seems to have been a limited one. Although there most certainly were Chinese prostitutes in Idaho during the formation of Boise's Chinatown, they seemed to be very few and far between when compared to the booming business that was seen in places such as San Francisco or New York. In 1880, for example, not one female who resided in the area which was considered Boise City was listed as a prostitute. That does not mean that prostitution wasn't an issue in the state of Idaho as a whole. Areas like Idaho City in the same year reported almost a dozen prostitutes, and in Placerville, again in 1880, all eleven Chinese women who lived in the town were prostitutes. Most of the Chinese women who lived in Boise City were the wives of wealthy Chinese men and of course there is the exception of Polly Bemis, who, rumor has it, may have started her life as a prostitute and eventually won her freedom through her relationship with her husband Charles. Part of the problem in defining prostitution among the Chinese in Idaho and specifically Boise, is that many women who were considered prostitutes by the Euroamerican population were in reality closer to concubines. Many of the Chinese men in Boise maintained wives in their home province in China and were also 'married' here in Boise. The problem is then in who we consider to be prostitutes. There were the characteristic "Madams" and brothels present in the state, but Boise seems to have lacked such an establishment. In any case, there must have also been those who went unreported and were never accounted for in census data and other city records.
Tell us what you know about Chinese prostitution at the turn of the 20th century in Boise here: